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How should an employer handle a transgender employee's request for a name change?

Employers should handle a name change request from a transgender employee the same way they handle any employee's name change request. Anyone can legally change his or her name (assuming it is not for fraudulent reasons), choose to go by a nickname or use an "English name" if his or her name is difficult to pronounce. However, there are compliance and practical considerations that dictate how employers should handle such situations.

The Internal Revenue Service requires the name on an employee's W-2 form to match the name on his or her Social Security card. These records can be changed when the employee has completed a legal name change. Until then, a note referencing the more commonly used name can be placed with payroll records for internal purposes.

Benefits documents also should reflect an employee's legal name to ensure proper distributions and claims handling. A note attached to an I-9 form can reference the new or more commonly used name for internal purposes; if the name is legally changed, Section 3 can be updated.

Federal law, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and many states and cities have laws regarding gender identity and sexual orientation. Therefore, having a policy or practice that inhibits an employee's ability to change his or her name during the course of employment could result in a discrimination claim. For example, the California sex discrimination regulations read, "An employer is permitted to use an employee's gender or legal name as indicated in a government-issued identification document only if it is necessary to meet a legally mandated obligation, but otherwise must identify the employee in accordance with the employee's gender identity and preferred name."1 Employers should research discrimination laws in cities and states where they operate.

Most transgender individuals adopt a name during their transition that better represents their gender identity and expression. Practically speaking, this is no different for the employer than an employee named Rebecca who only identifies with the name Becky or an employee named William Edward Smith who goes by Ed. Becky and Ed aren't their legal names, yet employers have no problem allowing the use of nicknames in e-mail addresses and on business cards, nameplates or company ID cards. This same consideration should apply to a transgender or transitioning employee who may not have legally changed his or her name but who identifies with a new name. Employers shouldn't request any documents to support a transgender employee's request for a name change if other employees don't have to provide documentation to support their requests.

If an employer's policy or practice requires that all employees use their full legal name on the organization's documents, the employer should consider revising the policy to accommodate employees who wish to use alternate names. Such policies and practices should be flexible to reflect an employer's policy of treating all employees with respect and dignity. Although transgender employees should not be given preferential treatment, they should receive the same considerations afforded to any employee requesting a name change.


1 California Civil Rights Department. (n.d.). Regulations regarding transgender identity and expression. Retrieved from



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